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Raise your Mexican culture quotient before working on your tan with these authentic Guadalajara experiences
A tapestry of culture shows itself through the traditional Mexican hat dance in Tequila
Arriba. Abajo. Al centro. Adentro. (Up. Down. Centre. Inside.) It’s the saying one repeats before sipping a cazuela in Guadalajara. A refreshing concoction of citrus fruit, tequila and soda, the cocktail is served in soup-bowl-sized ceramic cups.
It’s a traditional taste of Guadalajara, capital of the central state of Mexico, Jalisco, where tequila, mariachi music, sombreros and charreadas (rodeos) all come from. Salud!
The makings of casuela / Una cerveza and authentic Mexican food at Los Chilaquiles Restaurante in Guadalajara
Guadalajara has all the things one thinks of when it comes to Mexico…except the beach (it’s a mile above sea level and smack in the centre of the country).
But, here, you won’t miss it. There’s too much to see in this inland metropolis, the second largest in the country. Skip the sea and sand and think history (colonial architecture and cobblestones), arts and culture (ceramics, mariachi, the Mexican Hat Dance) and lush agricultural valley (the blue agave of tequila).
Guadalajara was first settled by the Spanish in 1532 and has grown and prospered since. Walking through Centro Histórico (Historic Centre) is a tour of the colonial past. The main cathedral is surrounded on all sides by squares with fountains, gazebos, markets and statues commemorating a proud past. Like that of revered figure of Miguel Hidalgo, a parish priest who fought for Mexican independence and came to Guadalajara in 1810 to sign a proclamation ending slavery.
Muralist José Clemente Orozco’s masterpiece The Man of Fire / The soaring columns and gorgeous stained glass of the Expiatory Cathedral (Templo Expiatorio) in Centro Histórico in Guadalajara
A stunning mural of his fight is on display in the Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace), where you can also see a bullet hole from the Mexican Revolution in the tower’s clock.
The historical monuments are endless, from the bronze sculpture of Guadalajara’s coat of arms (two lions against an oak tree, and a must-snap photo spot) in Plaza Tapatía to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hospicio Cabañas, where the beloved muralist José Clemente Orozco (a contemporary of Diego Riviera) painted his masterpiece The Man of Fire.
Old colonial mansion converted into a boutique hotel in downtown Guadalajara / Rooftops of Tlaquepaque, Guadalajara, as seen from the Museo Regional de la Cerámica
Guadalajara boasts many distinct neighbourhoods, once separate towns that have grown into each other to become this modern-day mega city. Beyond the churches and squares of Centro Histórico you’ll find the restaurant, café and club scene of Zona Rosa, and then farther out, the folk-art suburbs of Tlaquepaque (now a rather posh and artsy gallery scene) and Tonalá (more working-class, grassroots).
Here you’ll mingle with tapatíos, the nickname for Guadalajarans, whether local artisans like the Bernabe brothers in Tonala, whose handcrafted ceramics are sought-after worldwide, or Chef Josué Bañuelos in Tlaquepaque, of the top-notch restaurant El Nahual.
Traditional handmade ceramics by the Bernabe brothers in Tonalá, Guadalajara
But first, there’s that cazuela. Sip on it while listening to circling mariachi bands in Tlaquepaque’s El Parián. Originaly built as a market, El Parián is now a series of bars/eateries around a courtyard and bandstand—and a lively spot where locals and tourists mix.
Blue Agave fields outside Tequila, near Guadalajara
Of Guadalajara’s many contributions to Mexico, tequila may be at the top. You’ll find row upon row of the silvery blue agave plant that becomes the liquid gold in the lush valleys surrounding the city. Whether you’re a tequila aficionado or not, this is the agave-growing region of Mexico (akin to a terroir in France and similarly regulated).
And the town of Tequila (60km from Guadalajara) is itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Pueblo Mágico (Magical Town), and home to tequila houses like Mundo Cuervo, headquarters of Jose Cuervo and an institution here since 1795. Tour the Tequila Trail by car or ride the Tequila Express train.
So, when in Guadalajara, expect plenty of mariachis, folk art and tequila. After all, it’s the capital of Jalisco, known as the most Mexican of the Mexican states. But this is a city in transition, and it’s also known as Mexico’s Silicon Valley with a vibrant high-tech industry and a newer, non-traditional contemporary music and arts scene.
The month-long Fiestas de Octubre showcases the modern-art and alternative-rock side of Guadalajara, and there’s the Guadalajara International Book Fair, founded by the University of Guadalajara, and the Guadalajara International Film Fest — both known as the most important gatherings of their kind in Latin America.
And if you must go to the beach, then there’s that too, a few hours’ drive to the southwest.
The beach resort town of Puerto Vallarta is about 350 km away on a winding road that takes you past those agave fields, across mountains and through dense tropical jungle before reaching the Pacific coast — and a whole other side of Mexico to explore.
All images by Barb Sligl